Demystifying ingredients, clarifying how to apply products and revealing everything you’ve always wanted to know about skin types; Eliza Explains will help you become a beauty pro.
However, like every good millennial, I was raised on the idea of a three-step skincare routine and religiously cleansed, toned and moisturised my way through the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. Astringent toners from the likes of Clearasil became my go-to for zapping away excess oil and diminishing teenage breakouts.
The fact that I was always left with dehydrated, flaky and irritable skin didn’t deter me at the time, but as a flurry of more exciting and efficacious skincare products – from serums to acids – became more readily available on the beauty market, I soon abandoned my trusty, alcohol-based toners for good.
What is toner and what does it do?
Historically, face toners were used to remove any final traces of cleanser from your skin, along with any remaining particles of dirt, oil and makeup.
Considered to be of particular benefit to oily complexions, toners were also marketed as a way to ‘close’ pores (although I’d like to take this chance to say that pores aren’t doors, and while you can use products to minimise their appearance, we can’t close pores entirely).
Plus, with the aim of balancing your skin’s pH levels, it was believed that using a toner would help to prep your complexion for the rest of your skincare routine and allow any moisturisers applied on top to penetrate more deeply.
And while this all sounds great, the fact remains that many traditional toners boasted a high concentration of alcohol; an ingredient that’s renowned for drying out skin.
What are the benefits of using face toner?
These days, the general consensus from dermatologists and skin experts seems to be that while toners certainly aren’t essential, they can definitely act as a welcome boost to an already-effective skincare routine.
“Even if we use a gentle cleanser our skin can become slightly alkaline, and it is at its happiest at a slightly acidic pH,” explains Dr AJ Sturnham, a GP specialising in Dermatology.
“A well formulated toner will rebalance your skin’s pH back to around 5.5 while rehydrating your skin barriers and prepping your skin for any subsequently applied products (like serum), which will absorb more effectively following a toner step.”
How do I find the right toner for my skin?
There’s now a whole new wave of contemporary face toners on the market which offer up a whole host of skin benefits, from decongesting blocked pores and boosting glow through gentle exfoliation, to improving skin tone and soothing inflammation.
Whatever outcome you’re after, there is one key piece of advice to remember: read the ingredients label and steer clear if you spot alcohol listed high up, as it’s a one-way ticket to dehydrated skin.
How should I apply face toner?
Personally, I like to pour a little onto a reusable cotton pad and gently blot it onto my skin (patting rather than sweeping), but you can also press it in using your hands or spritz them on if they come in a spray bottle.
How often should I use toner?
As for frequency, it really depends on what kind of face toner you’re using. Soothing, moisturising or protective face toners can be used twice a day, but formulas with more active or exfoliating ingredients such as AHAs and BHAs should be used two to three times a week and then built up slowly to daily use.
Our edit of the best face toners for every skin type
Ole Henriksen Glow2OH Dark Spot Toner
This toner is jam-packed with glycolic and lactic acids to target dark spots and pigmentation for a more even skin tone, smooth rough patches and minimise the appearance of fine lines.
The result is brighter-looking skin with natural luminosity. It does have a little tingle when first applied, so more sensitive skin types should be wary, but the glow is undeniable. Oh, and it smells like freshly-made lemonade, which can only be a plus.
Pixi Vitamin-C Tonic
While it might be Pixi’s cult Glow Tonic that often hits the top spots on the lists of best face toners, it’s their more under-the-radar vitamin c toner that I think is truly deserving of recommendation.
It harnesses the antioxidant benefits of vitamin C to boost your skin’s collagen production for healthier-looking skin overall, alongside also improving radiance. Plus, the brand has added in another antioxidant in the form of ferulic acid to rejuvenate and protect skin. Win, win.
Youth To The People Kombucha Exfoliation Power Toner
If you’re not used to using acids in your skincare routine then I’d probably try one of the other face toners before graduating onto this one as it’s pretty potent (or at least do a patch test first).
However, the mix of 8% lactic acid and 3% glycolic acid offers seriously brilliant results; not only smoothing the skin and diffusing the appearance of pores but majorly enhancing glow.
Plus, it also contains kombucha black tea and tree bark, two prebiotic ferments which will care for your skin barrier. So, while it’s powerful, your skin will be left soft and nourished.
Biossance Squalane + BHA Pore Minimising Toner
Raw white willow bark (a natural source of salicylic acid) is the star ingredient of this refining toner thanks to its ability to gently dissolve dead skin cells and smooth rough skin.
This gentle exfoliation is combined with the hydrating benefits of squalane, which leaves skin feeling soft, supple and healthy. The results are impressive, and I can genuinely say that this is the formula that converted me to the joys of using face toner again.
Bliss Clear Genius Clarifying Toner + Serum
This innovative treatment has all of the benefits of a classic toner including exfoliation, purification and reducing excessive levels of oil, along with the hydrating benefits of a serum. As the name suggests, it really is kind of genius, and combination or spot-prone complexions will really reap the benefits.
The potent formulation boasts a list of real powerhouse ingredients, including salicylic acid, witch hazel water, niacinamide, zinc and cica, to clear congestion while keeping skin calm and balanced at the same time.
Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Toner
When it comes to dealing with breakouts or targeting congestion, Caudalie’s entire Vinopure range has to be one of my most recommended. So, it comes as no surprise that this refreshing toner is amongst my list of the very best.
It uses natural salicylic acid to decongest blocked pores, rosemary essential oil to ease inflammation and grape polyphenols (Caudalie’s hero ingredient) to protect skin from external aggressors.
My skin always looks clearer after using this, and any active breakouts feel soothed. Plus, I love the velvety-matte finish that it leaves behind.
Avène Gentle Toner for Sensitive Skin
Proving the point that the best face toners don’t have to be harsh, this alcohol and paraben-free formulation from French pharmacy brand Avene has been specially created with dry and sensitive skin types in mind.
In fact, its main purpose is to protect the delicate skin barrier through a combination of soothing thermal spring water and natural silicates, which provide a layer of gentle protection.
L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Filler + Hyaluronic Acid Face Toner
Hydration is the name of the game with this skin-plumping face toner from L’Oreal Paris. Although it’s touted as an ‘anti-ageing’ toner, I think that dehydrated and sensitive skin types will love this thanks to the hefty dose of moisturising hyaluronic acid.
It leaves skin feeling quenched, plump and deeply refreshed…the perfect starting point for layering other serums and moisturisers on top.
Versed Baby Cheeks All-In-One Hydrating Milk
Think of this face toner as a big glass of water for dry or parched complexions. Brimming with coconut water, algae and bamboo extracts, it’s effectively a milky cocktail of hydration that blankets skin with moisture to leave your complexion looking plump and dewy. Plus, it does the hard work of removing any remaining traces of makeup or dirt without stripping the surface of your skin.